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Netflix Acts Like It Invented TV Spoilers — And That’s Smart Marketing

SVOD leader takes ownership of 'spoiler' trend with survey finding 21% of Americans believe it's OK to reveal plot points immediately

Is Netflix responsible for the advent of the “spoiler” — when some clueless pal divulges a key plot point of TV shows or movies you haven’t seen? Of course not: It’s been a cultural meme since “Citizen Kane,” in which… well, you know.

But Netflix is taking credit for elevating the phenomenon to a whole new level, commissioning research showing that consumers increasingly are accepting spoilers as a core part of watching TV today.

It’s a smart move. By claiming ownership of spoilers — and the related trend toward binge-watching series — Netflix continues to solidify its image as an unstoppable force that is changing entertainment-viewing habits.

Netflix’s goal is to put a positive spin on spoilers, which mostly have been viewed (as the name suggests) as ruining a prospective viewer’s enjoyment of a TV show. According to a survey conducted last month by Harris Poll on behalf of Netflix among U.S. adults, 94% of American consumers said that learning about a spoiler doesn’t make them want to stop watching the rest of a TV series. Meanwhile, 13% said a spoiler actually makes them more interested in watching a show.

Indeed, 21% of Americans believe it’s OK to share a major plot twist with a friend immediately. Interestingly, research Netflix conducted in the U.K. found that less than 4% of Brits say it’s acceptable to discuss spoilers.

SEE ALSO: Netflix Survey: Binge-Watching Is Not Weird or Unusual

Last fall Netflix paid for a similar survey on binge viewing, with the not-especially-stunning finding that 61% of those who watch TV shows online binge-watch 2-3 episodes at least every few weeks. Again, the point was to position the No. 1 SVOD service as the prime factor fueling the behavior — never mind that time-shifted viewing on DVRs and homevideo were already enabling TV junkies to watch, say, an entire season of “The Sopranos” over a weekend.

Spoilers, according to Netflix, have essentially become teasers, not a devastating blow that cuts into viewership. According to the recent survey, 76% of Americans said they’ve accepted spoilers as a fact of life.

“As TV evolves, consumer behavior is evolving right along with it,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said. He called out “House of Cards” season 2, alluding to a central character’s abrupt murder in the first episode and claiming it led to “a definite shift in the social conversation… That was the moment everything changed.”

Netflix surely has played a part in changing the way TV is consumed. But it’s a stretch to argue that the company has single-handedly been the reason people are apparently less annoyed with spoilers. That said, Netflix is the only entertainment provider savvy enough to have seized the opportunity to turn the “problem” of spoilers into a marketing opportunity.

It’s worth noting that not everyone is fine with spoilers. Most viewers (54%) said people should “speak in code” when chatting about major plot developments, per the Netflix survey. Another finding: Men are more likely to spill the beans, with 42% of men admitting they have spoiled a show for their co-workers (vs. 26% of women).

The U.S. spoiler survey was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Netflix between Aug. 6-8, 2014 among 2,023 adults 18 and older. The online survey weighted age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income to reflect the overall U.S. population.

Watch a video of Netflix’s summary of the spoiler research:

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